Remember those who died for this country


Memorial Day is the one day a year Americans have set aside to officially honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in the name of Freedom and Liberty.

According to, three years after the Civil War ended on May 5, 1865, 1868, the head of an organization of Union Veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon B. Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day.

Robin Aube-Warren Robin Aube-Warren

There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff. Supporters of Waterloo’s claim say earlier observances in other places were informal, not community-wide or one-time events.

Regardless of where the observation originated, it is our obligation as a grateful nation to remember those individuals who gave the “last full measure of devotion” as described by President Abraham Lincoln during the Gettysburg Address.

By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day, and the Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities.

It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May.

To me, Memorial Day is a day that recognizes how enormously indebted we are to those who have laid down their lives to ensure we live in a country with countless liberties. Whether celebrated on May 30, or on the last Monday of May, the day should be a day of remembrance.

On Memorial Day, the U.S. flag only flies at half-staff for the first half of the day, and then is raised to full height from noon to sundown. This unique custom honors the war dead for the morning, and living veterans for the rest of the day. In December 2000, President Clinton created the National Moment of Remembrance, asking Americans to pause at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day for a reverent moment of silence.

From the opening rounds of the American Revolution through all the conflicts still being fought today, Americans of every generation have been called upon to defend our freedom. Too many men and women never return to their families.

Freedom is never free and has been earned by the diligence and sacrifice of many. This is a day to thank every American generation who sacrificed their lives; we salute them for the enduring gifts they gave to all of us:

• The right to vote for our representatives in government;

• The right to critique our government without fear of retribution;

• The right to worship as we please;

• The liberty to travel freely;

• The opportunity to hear, and read, news gathered and written without government intervention.

Long after the guns fall silent and the fallen are laid to rest, we must continue to pay freedom’s cost. We’ve won nothing unless we honor our veterans with the care and benefits they have earned through their service and sacrifice.

While Memorial Day is typically looked upon as the unofficial beginning of summer, it is truly much more. I ask everyone who reads this to pause and remember the loss of so many great Americans. As we reflect on what might have been for those who died in service to America, we can conclude that hope for a better country and a better world was one of the goals for which they sacrificed. It’s up to us to follow through toward that goal.

In the words of Calvin Coolidge, “The nation who forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.” To all of America’s heroes: Thank you for your service! God bless our nation’s fallen, all of our veterans, and the families left behind to carry on — we remember all of them today.

Editor’s note: Robin C. Aube-Warren, Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, is the director of the Wilmington VA Medical Center, immediately west of Elsmere.

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